The sea was a fine flat calm and tendrils of light mist played in the tops of the trees as the Mother Goose fleet left the chaos of Auke Bay Marina this morning to begin leg five of this grand adventure. The modest skyline of the isolated state capitol faded into the haze astern and the buzz of innumerable helicopters and floatplanes was replaced by the calling of gulls and croak of the Bald Eagle. Pulling into Stephens Passage just ahead of us steams the Matanuska, one of the stout oceangoing ferries which serve some of Alaska’s far flung coastal communities. Though she too was Ketchikan bound like us, her business was more pressing and she soon disappeared behind the curve of Douglas Island.
Entering deeper waters past Outer Point the currents ran freely, and catching the ebb we were whisked along at a brisk ten knots through bobbing rafts of scoters and murrelets. Diminutive Red-necked Phalaropes sat among the fronds of seaweed which collect on the current lines, twittering in alarm as leaping pink salmon barreled their way into the air around them.
There was a fishing opening today, and the commercial gillnetters are out in force along the rocky coast of Admiralty Island hunting Sockeye salmon, unfurling long curtains of net from spools on the decks of their solid utilitarian boats. The VHF fills with their voices, gossiping, chiding one another, and warning other boats away from the lines of nearly invisible floats which mark their nets. When the Fish and Game department comes on the radio to announce that the opening has been extended for an additional day the response is joyful.
We cross the busy shipping lanes of Stephens Passage in the huge rolling wake of Juneau bound cruise ships. Aboard one of them is the extended family of some of the crew on Ajax, Mike and Barb. We hope they can see us from the rail as we slip away to astern.
The two small tree-covered hills which make up Midway Island are separated by the sea at high tide. Today they played host to Black Kittiwakes and a smattering of sea lions who lounged on the seaweed covered rocks at the waterline. As the first electric blue icebergs slid into view, Navigator spotted a small group of humpback whales just south of the islet. As we crossed the bar into Holkham Bay curtains of fog lay on the water and holes in the clouds gave us glimpses of the hanging Sumdum Glacier high above us. Minutes later we dropped out anchors in the protected waters of No Name Cove and launched our dinghies to examine a monstrous sloping iceberg caught on the rocks off the point.
Deception along with her rafted neighbors Ajax and Aquila hosted a cocktail hour, which was rapidly upstaged by the appearance of a pair of grizzly bears chasing one another on the shoreline. The naturalist Greg determined that the younger bear was encroaching on the territory of the larger more dominant male, who was none too happy about the intrusion.
Just as the sun set, the incredible show got a little too personal for a pair of dutch kayakers, who had their dinner interrupted by the curious bears and were forced to take to the water, leaving behind their tent and all their possessions as darkness fell. Deception was all too happy to come to the rescue. Due to nightfall and the sight of the bears settling town in the tall grass around their tent, we decided to attempt a rescue mission in the morning and so after a mug of tea, Captain Rich graciously put up the grateful castaways in the comfort of the bear-proof master cabin. Just another day in Alaska! Whales, bears, ice, and a rescue mission. It might be difficult to top day one of leg five of Mother Goose, but tomorrow holds a lot of promise.